According to Buddhist thought, the soul does not retain its attributes at death any more than a wave retains its identity when it dissipates in the ocean. An analogy often used to illustrate Buddhism’s perspective of the cycle of birth and rebirth is that of a candle that lights another candle as it flickers and becomes extinguished.
Buddhist belief in the process of birth and rebirth is validated by the testimony of Lord Buddha Himself, who upon enlightenment came to know all the details of His hundreds or thousands of past lives. He stated that His present life would be His last. Although Lord Buddha would not include God in His teachings and did not claim to be divine, His followers came to worship Him.
Buddhists pay Him homage, if not as God, then as the Enlightened One and Hindus see Buddha as the ninth incarnation of Lord Vishnu, the Preserver.
Read more about Birth and Rebirth in the Buddhist Religion in On Hinduism, by Irina Gajjar.
Many of us want answers to questions of our existence, the reality of God, eternity, the soul, the meaning of truth and other such matters.
On the other hand, most of us know or realize that these answers are not available to our human minds. Still we persist in our quest. I think we do this to a large extent because the exercise is mentally fun. Most of us who pursue such truths intellectually are not really prepared for revelations that evade or defy the limits of our understanding.
Lord Buddha taught that we should not worry about understanding that which is beyond our grasp, but should focus instead on virtuous behavior and our karma. Early Buddhism did not consider God at all, but later Buddhist could not manage without a deity and decided that Lord Buddha embodied God Himself.
Ahimsa, or nonviolence, is a Hindu principle that means we should live in harmony with the universe. We should be considerate of all creatures and all natural forces and live in balance with them. We should be compassionate. We should exercise self-control and not go into frenzy to satisfy our desires, treading on the toes of those who stand in our way. We should be at peace within ourselves and with the world. We should not needlessly hurt others in any way. However, we should do what our duty demands.
While Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism all endorse the doctrine of Ashimsa, they consider it differently. Buddhism bans killing along with stealing, lying, sexual misconduct, and intoxication. Jainism opposes all killing categorically. Hindu tenets are not so specific. They go to motive. Hinduism des not oppose killing. Rather, it opposes senseless killing. The distinction is difficult ti put into words. The effects of an act depends on the thoughts that engendered it. The doer of the act must decide whether an act is hurtful or not and whether it is necessary or not. It is the quality of the actor’s nature that determines if her or she makes the right and good decision and that sets karma in motion, for better or for worse. While a wise person performs acts that are in keeping with universal harmony, an anger driven fool is likely to commit acts of unwarranted violence.
Violence and destruction is not always harmful. Burning fields to improve their fertility is a good thing. It is different from starting a wildfire that will burn and destroy forests. The Gita speaks of a moral war, explaining that the soul cannot be killed and that the body does not matter at all. The Mhabharata and the Gita illustrate rather than explain what constitutes a moral war. Lord Krishna speaks on the “Battlefield of Dharma.” The noble hero, Arjun, does not want to slay his enemy. He does not want a kingdom, or victory, or pleasures. He would rather his enemy kill him and kill them. Lord Krishna convinces Arjun to fight, leaving the outcome of the war in God’s hands:
Do not care if your fighting brings pleasure or pain,
The concept of “dharma” is difficult to convey in English. The term is an ancient one equivalent to the Persian word “daena” which means something like insight and revelation. In Zoroastrianism, Daena has been explained as a journey that enables the soul to see light at the end of life.
In the Upanishads, dharma is defined as truth, but both dharma and truth are philosophies unto themselves. They are short words that encompass entire belief systems. Dharma is a lodestar, an abiding principle, not only for Hinduism, but also for her sister religions, Buddhism, Sikhism and Jainism. These faiths have arisen from different aspects of the Hindu world view and have evolved with their own specificities and emphases.
The word Hindu describes the original inhabitants of the Indus River Valley, but today many followers of Hinduism prefer to describe their faith as the Sanatana Dharma, an abiding principle which means The Eternal Order or Way.
See Chapter 8 of On Hinduism by Irina Gajjar to appreciate the full meaning of “dharma” in Eastern religions.
Od is a word that a gentleman named Karl von Reichenbach (1788-1869] chose to represent a force that pervaded life. He tried to prove this force’s existence and manifestation through research which unfortunately fizzled. Thus, today od is defined as a hypothetical force or a force formerly believed to have existed.
However notwithstanding von Reichenbach’s inability to prove od, the word qi (pronounced chi) and translated into English as breath or air, hypothetical or not, is a fundamental principle in practices like Chinese medicine and martial art.
In Hinduism the word prana which translates as life breath or life force is an essential philosophical and spiritual notion. Breath control is viewed as a form of worship and meditation or contemplation in both Hinduism and Buddhism.